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South of Pago Pago

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South of Pago Pago
Directed byAlfred E. Green
Produced byEdward Small
Written byGeorge Bruce
Kenneth Gamet
StarringVictor McLaglen
Jon Hall
Frances Farmer
Music byEdward Ward
CinematographyJohn J. Mescall
Edited byRay Curtiss
Edward Small Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • July 19, 1940 (1940-07-19) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States

South of Pago Pago is a 1940 American South Seas adventure film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Victor McLaglen, Jon Hall and Frances Farmer.[2]


In the 1875 a group of adventurers meet in Singapore to look for pearls in the Pacific Islands: ship's Captain Bucko Larson, his First Mate Williams, Peg Legged Foster and bar girl and adventuress Ruby Taylor. They are guided by a Portuguese sailor Manuel Ferro who knows of virgin pearl beds off the island of Manoa, "south of Pago Pago". They arrive at the island, however when Ferro wants more than his agreed third of a share, Bucko throws him over the side to his doom.

Passing out gifts, the amiable Bucko recruits the native divers to obtain pearls. When there are not many suitable pearls in the shallow waters, Bucko directs the divers to dangerous waters that cause death and severe injuries through decompression sickness. He his initial success in getting them to continue their diving by providing them more gifts and alcoholic beverages, but Kehane, the chief's son place a taboo on any more deep water diving.

Ruby is desired by Kehane, so Bucko uses her to marry Kehane where they leave the island for a honeymoon enabling Bucko to force the divers into more dangerous work at gunpoint for Bucko's profit. Ruby genuinely falls for Kehane and has a crisis of conscience.


Jon Hall and Frances Farmer in South of Pago Pago
Jon Hall and Frances Farmer in South of Pago Pago



Producer Edward Small announced the project in 1938 with the stars to be Jon Hall and Sigrid Gurie, both of whom would be borrowed from Sam Goldwyn.[3] Small had a deal with United Artists. Howard Emmett Rogers was working on the script.[4] In August 1938 Small sent a unit under John Burch to film in second unit footage in American Samoa.[5]

In March 1939 Small announced the film as part of his $5 million seven-film program for 1939–40. (The other movies would be Kit Carson, Two Years Before the Mast, Valentino, Quantrill, My Son, My Son and Food of the Gods. Small would end up only making a few of these.)[6] For a time it seemed Clayton Moore might be cast instead of Hall.[7] Filming was to begin on 1 September 1939.[8] Tom Neal and Diane Lewis joined the cast.[9] Filming was pushed back to 15 September so Small could borrow director Charles Vidor from Columbia.[10]

Eventually Small decided to put Vidor on My Son, My Son instead, feeling he was better suited to that.[11]

In February 1940 Victor McLaglen was signed to costar alongside Clayton Moore and Alfred Werker was signed to direct.[12] Moore did not appear in the final film. Small borrowed Frances Farmer to play the female lead; Farmer had been fighting with Paramount over roles and it was reported that this would be her last film under her Paramount contract.[13]

Rita Hayworth was discussed for the role of the lead native girl.[14] Olympe Bradne ended up playing it.


Filming eventually began 26 March 1940. Locations included Balboa Island, Newport Beach with underwater scenes shot at Santa Catalina.[15][16][17][18] On 3 April it was reported that Werker had "retired as director" after an "argument over the script."[19] He was replaced by Alfred E. Green. Green had directed Farmer in her last film, Ride a Crooked Mile and described her as a "different girl" on this one.[20]

After completion of the film, Hall immediately went into Kit Carson for Small.[21]


Reviews were poor.[22] The New York Times listed it as among the worst films of the year.[23]


  1. ^ "Louella O. Parsons: Close-Ups and Long-Shots Of the Motion Picture Scene". The Washington Post. Aug 3, 1939. p. 6.
  2. ^ South of Pago Pago at the TCM Movie Database
  3. ^ ""Frawley Awarded New Paramount Contract: Rita Johnson Assigned Small Debates Plans Brown to Meet Corrigan Korda Seeks Arlen" Scheuer, Philip K.". Los Angeles Times. Aug 3, 1938. p. 8.
  4. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD". New York Times. Aug 2, 1938. p. 15.
  5. ^ "Unique Army Ready to 'Fight' in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Aug 23, 1938. p. 8.
  6. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Three Pictures Announced by Small Productions". New York Times. Mar 28, 1939. p. 20.
  7. ^ Louella O. Parsons (Aug 30, 1939). "Close-Ups and Long-Shots Of the Motion Picture Scene". The Washington Post. p. 6.
  8. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD". New York Times. Aug 3, 1939. p. 21.
  9. ^ "JIMMIE FIELDER IN HOLLYWOOD". Los Angeles Times. Aug 28, 1939. p. A14.
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Aug 28, 1939). "DRAMA: Golden Boy Hits Trail Anew as Raft Brother 'Roz' May 'Willow Walk' Leigh Story Huddle On 'Pago Pago' Director 'Disraeli' Comes to Life Rush Trips in Evidence". Los Angeles Times. p. A14.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Sep 10, 1939). "DRAMA: Dramatic Subject to Star McLaglen, Cooper". Los Angeles Times. p. X3.
  12. ^ DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL (Feb 10, 1940). "NEWS OF THE SCREEN: George Brent Gets Lead Opposite Merle Oberon in 'House on the Hill'--'Pinocchio' Opens Tonight Laraine Day Gets Role Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 22.
  13. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD". New York Times. Feb 29, 1940. p. 15.
  14. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Mar 5, 1940). "R.K.O. Uses News Story as Basis for Picture: Comedienne in Air Film Miss Campbell Assigned Fields Book Due Soon Donat's Return Seen Lessey to Play Lawyer". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
  15. ^ Schallert, Edwin (May 9, 1940). "'Scattergood Baines' Series to Be Filmed". Los Angeles Times. p. A10.
  16. ^ "Hedda Hopper's HOLLYWOOD". Los Angeles Times. Apr 12, 1940. p. A11.
  17. ^ "South Seas". The News. Adelaide. 14 November 1940. p. 10. Retrieved 18 December 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "CAMERAS ON THE HALF SHELLZwork=New York Times". July 14, 1940. p. 104.
  19. ^ "NEWS OF THE SCREEN". New York Times. Apr 4, 1940. p. 31.
  20. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Apr 28, 1940). "TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD: Town Called Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. C3.
  21. ^ "Looking at Hollywood: Jon Hall, a Forgotten Hero". Chicago Daily Tribune. July 7, 1940. p. d3.
  22. ^ BOSLEY CROWTHER (Aug 2, 1940). "THE SCREEN: 'Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) Meets Debutante' at Capitol--New Films at Music Hall and Palace At the Music Hall At the Palace". New York Times. p. 12.
  23. ^ THEODORE STRAUSS. (Dec 29, 1940). "A FEW HUSKS FROM A FIELD OF CORN: Condensed Roll-Call of The Worst Offerings of The Passing Year". New York Times. p. X5.
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